In Afghanistan, women are not allowed to dance in public. But boys are.
“Bacha Bazi” is an ancient Afghan tradition where boys dress up like women and dance for crowds of men at parties. The term literally translates as “playing with boys.”
But, the dancing isn’t where the scandal lies—It’s not uncommon for the boys (Bachas) to be approached after the parties and taken to hotels—there, they are sexually abused by the male party-goers.
It's an ancient practice, and the men perpetuating it are wealthy, and powerful.
Although the practice was banned by the Taliban, and is still illegal under Afghan law, some like to keep several boys around to serve as status symbols.
The boys, often as young as 12, are from poor families, or have been orphaned. Adding to the tragedy, they are discarded as Bachas by the time they are 20-years old, deemed too old to pleasure anyone anymore.
There have been reports of older Bacha Bazi being murdered to ensure their silence—and those that do escape alive often turn to drugs and prostitution in an attempt to eek out a living.
The BBC was able to speak with one Bacha about his experience. He was just 15-years old, and called himself Omid.
After his father died from stepping on a landmine, Omid was left to care for his mother and two younger brothers.
He told the BBC, “We were hungry, I had no choice. Sometimes we go to bed on empty stomachs. When I dance at parties I earn about $2 or some pilau rice.”
Omid spoke openly about the seedier side of Bacha Bazi. He admitted to having been gang raped in the past.
When asked why he doesn’t go to the police, he said, “They are powerful and rich men. The police can’t do anything against them.”
While Omid and other boys like him can surely confirm that the tradition of Bacha Bazi is alive and well throughout Afghanistan, there is widespread denial concerning its existence.
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The BBC also spoke with Muhammad Ibrahim, the deputy Police Chief of Jowzjan province. He denies that the practice is still around.
He told reporters, “We haven’t had any cases of Bacha Bazi in the last four-to-five years. It doesn’t exist here any more.”
The practice itself is shocking. But the fact that society continues to sweep it under the rug isn’t. This kind of socially embedded pedophilia stands in direct contradiction to the norms set down by Islamic societies.
Yet it endures.
It also exemplifies how the division of the sexes has translated into something more disturbing than an off-centered society.
Powerful men are able to sidestep social norms by thrusting boys into a role that was never meant for them. The issue of pedophilia is important. But it’s just another symptom of an impoverished society paralyzed by outdated and exaggerated standards.
Until those standards evolve Bacha Bazi is likely to remain just outside the realm of conversation.
Meanwhile, the victims of child sex abuse—and not the perpetrators—continue to be punished.
In 2012, a 13-year-old boy was sentenced to a year in juvenile detention on moral crimes charges, after being found guilty of having sex with two adult men in a public park located in Herat province .
To find out how you can help urge the Afghan government to stop the prosecution of sexually abused children visit Human Rights Watch.
The Trump-Twitter Industrial Complex continues to fester and mutate.
This week, President Donald J. Trump tweeted a false statement about mail-in ballots.
He wrote that secretaries of state were sending mail-in ballots to every person, when actually states are only sending out ballot applications. For the first time, Twitter jumped in to fact-check Trump's statement, adding a link to a webpage full of information about mail-in ballots.
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Was the Jimmy Fallon Blackface Skit Intentionally Released as a Distraction from the Murder of George Floyd?
Racist police violence is a modern epidemic. So why are we talking about an SNL skit from 2000?
At this point, celebrity apologies are incredibly common. In 2020, it seems like some formerly beloved actor or TV personality is being put through the wringer of public opinion a few times a week.
Most recently, Twitter canceled Jimmy Fallon after an unquestionably racist skit from the 2000 season of SNL resurfaced online. The skit features Fallon impersonating Chris Rock, complete with black face and an offensive imitation of Rock's speech patterns.
Jimmy Fallon Blackface youtu.be
This quickly led to the hashtag #jimmyfallonisoverparty trending on Twitter. While fans seemed split on whether Fallon should be forgiven for the 20-year-old misstep, most everyone agreed that Fallon should apologize regardless. This morning, he did just that in the form of a tweet.
As far as celebrity apologies go, Fallon's is a pretty good one. He doesn't try to sidestep the blame, he doesn't bring up the fact that there were undoubtedly many, many other individuals involved in the creation of the skit, and he doesn't even mention the fact that in 2000, many people still thought it was possible for black face to be done in the spirit of fun, because the deeply racist nature of the act was largely ignored in mainstream (white) media. Of course, we know better now, and it's easy to see that a white person doing an exaggerated imitation of a black person—darkened skin included—can only be a racist, belittling act with a long, dark history of racial oppression. With that in mind, Fallon's only option was to apologize without caveat or reservation. Indeed, it's refreshing to see a celebrity apology that doesn't try to justify or minimize their own misstep. While we can all agree Fallon made a terrible, racist choice 20 years ago, we have to believe that, like all of us, he's grown since then. If cancel culture is to have any efficacy in making the world a better place, it has to leave room for forgiveness and growth. Hopefully, the whole affair will leave Fallon (and those who witnessed it) more racially sensitive.
All of that being said, one has to ask why the clip was brought up now, given that it's been circulated around the Internet before, and the specific YouTube clip that was shared was posted on the site over a year ago. It's also worth noting that the version of the clip that was going around Twitter has a text overlay that reads: "NBC FIRED MEGAN KELLY FOR MENTIONING BLACKFACE. JIMMY FALLON PERFORMED ON NBC IN BLACKFACE."
Megan Kelly, an outspoken conservative, was indeed fired from her job at NBC because she defended the use of blackface in Halloween costumes, saying on her talk show, "Truly, you do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface for Halloween, or a black person who put on whiteface for Halloween," she said. "When I was a kid, that was OK as long as you were dressing up as a character." While Fallon's instance of racial insensitivity was in 2000, Kelly defended blackface in 2019, long after society at large had begun to acknowledge the hurt that blackface and other forms of racial impersonation could cause. This fundamental difference aside, Kelly also has a long history of racial insensitivity that Fallon does not, even once saying, "What is the evidence that what happened to Eric Garner and what happened to Michael Brown has anything to do with race?" in a conversation about the epidemic of racist police officers in America.
Given the text overlay, it's pretty clear that whoever began the #jimmyfallonisoverparty was not necessarily seeking justice for the black community, but was instead trying to imply hypocrisy in the cancellation of Megan Kelly, given that Fallon (who has been outspoken about the flaws of the Trump administration and political pundits like Kelly) is still on the air. One even has to wonder if, given that it's obvious that the #jimmyfallonisoverparty trend was begun by a conservative individual or group, if the trend was meant to be a distraction from the widespread racist police violence that has been emphasized in recent weeks by incidents like the death of George Floyd, a black man who was murdered in Minneapolis by a white police officer on Monday. It seems oddly coincidental that the clip of Fallon should flood the Internet with controversy the day after Floyd's murder, unfortunately serving to help steer conversation away from Floyd's unjust death.
Indeed, under the unquestionably racist Donald Trump administration, more and more black people are being harassed, attacked, and murdered at the hands of racist white civilians and police officers. But Trump and his supporters don't want you to focus on that–so much so that it doesn't feel impossible that the Fallon skit was intentionally weaponized as a distraction.
In the last few weeks alone we learned that Ahmaud Arbery was murdered senselessly by a white man while simply out for a jog, and we all witnessed the harassment of Christian Cooper, a black man who was threatened by a white woman in Central Park who didn't want to put her dog on a leash. It's clear that racism in America cannot be reduced to insensitive skits from 20 years ago but is instead a current and deadly problem. What Jimmy Fallon did in 2000 was racist, yes; but don't let that distract you from the deadly consequences of racism in 2020, don't let celebrity apologies make you take your eyes of our lawmakers, who aren't doing enough to protect people of color in this country. Don't let the latest "#_____isoverparty" trend distract you from the deadly consequences of racism in our laws, culture, and criminal justice system.
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